More

AP.TBO.comTBO.COMWFLAThe Tampa TribuneCommunity
Welcome




 Make TBO your Home Page
 Advertise with us
 Web site feedback





  







Breaking NewsFlorida NewsUSWorldBusinessSportsHealth & ScienceTechnologyArtsPoliticsAP AudioArchiveWire HomeTBO.com NewsAP.TBO.com Home Page NewsWeatherThings to DoSportsTrafficClassifiedReal EstateCareersAutosPersonalsRelocationMultimedia ReportsInformation On DemandHealthShoppingConsumerEducationYour MoneyTravelGamesTBO.com Home Page
Yellow PagesWhite pagesEmail searchMaps and DirectionsFinancialMarketplace DirectoryTV ListingsTrib ArchiveContact Us

 
  

  



First Person: Reporter on Death Row Beat Has Seen 46 Executions

Published: Jul 9, 2003

advertisement
STARKE, Fla. (AP) - I've seen flames jet from an inmate's head. I've seen clouds of smoke roil at the top of the execution chamber at Florida State Prison. I've heard an inmate complain that he was brutalized by guards looking for a suitable vein to attach an IV for the deadly cocktail used in lethal injection.

In 19 years on the death beat, I've seen 44 men and two women die as the state carried out the ultimate punishment for murder.

Some of the doomed were fearful, others stoic. Some were defiant, others penitent. Most were guilty of heinous crimes. Some dropped appeals and sought execution. A few were probably innocent.

While many of the details of individual executions are part of a collective memory, some images are forever seared into my memory: The cold steel blue eyes of serial killer Ted Bundy. Flames erupting from the head of Jesse Tafero and flames from around the head piece of Pedro Medina. Tiny Judias Buenoano, known as the black widow, in the massive wooden chair - her head shaved bald and coated with gel. The strange final statement by female serial killer Aileen Wuornos about "a mother ship" before she was executed by injection. The large blood stain which formed on the front of Allen "Tiny" Davis' shirt during the last electrocution in Florida.

When I first witnessed an execution in 1984, I didn't know how I would react. Would I faint, vomit or cry out? I didn't do any of those things and felt guilty that I really didn't feel anything other than depressed.

Forty-five executions later, I still worry. Will I see something horrific that I will have to try to suppress from my nightmares? Seeing flames jump from someone's head or blood flow onto someone's body are not easy things to forget.

During the execution, a reporter is busy working to record every detail on a yellow pad with pencils provided by the prison system. There is the inmate's final statement, the time the execution started, the time the inmate was examined by medical workers and the pronouncement of death.

In most cases of state-sanctioned death, there is little to see and observe. With the change from the electric chair to lethal injection, there is even less to watch.

With the electric chair, the condemned was brought through a metal door in the back of the room and quickly seated in the chair. A team quickly tightened straps around the inmate's chest, arms, waist and legs, attaching an electrode to a freshly shaved right leg.

After giving the inmate a chance to make a final statement, an electrode was attached to his head and a black leather mask lowered over his face. The warden would nod to a black-hooded executioner, who would turn a switch, sending as much as 2,000 volts of power through the inmate's body.

Usually, after a sudden lurch backward caused by muscles contracting, the inmate would slump in the chair. Puffs of smoke would sometimes rise from the electrode attached to the inmate's leg and then the execution would end.

On two occasions - the May 4, 1990, execution of Tafero and the March 25, 1997, death of Medina - witnesses had to deal with flames. During the Tafero execution, flames as high as 3 feet shot from the top of his head. The process was repeated three times with flames returning each time. When Medina was put to death, flames shot around the mask and a cloud of smoke formed at the top of the execution chamber. Sponges atop the condemned inmates' heads were blamed for both fiery deaths.

The bloody execution of Davis on July 8, 1999, marked the end of Florida's electric chair. The blood came from a nose bleed, but soon grew to a stain on his white shirt about the size of a dinner plate.

Pictures of Davis' bruised bloated body were presented to the Florida Supreme Court and ended up on the Internet. Florida later changed its method of execution to lethal injection.

While apparently more humane that electrocution, the results of lethal injection are the same - the condemned prisoner dies.

The Department of Corrections has a script for lethal injection that runs six pages, outlining the jobs of the individuals involved.

Preparing an inmate for death by injection is done out of the view of the media and public. Behind closed doors, intravenous lines are placed in an inmate's arms. When a suitable vein can't be found, they can be inserted into a leg or even hands. If necessary, a surgical cut can be made to insert the needles.

When Bennie Demps was executed on June 7, 2000, he complained he had been cut in the groin and leg as technicians searched for a suitable vein. He said he was "butchered," bleeding profusely and in a lot of pain.

The first sight the 12 media witnesses and 12 official witnesses have of the condemned in a lethal injection is when a brown curtain is opened in the execution chamber.

Then, the inmate is already strapped to a gurney, clear plastic IV lines running through a hole in the wall. A white sheet is pulled up to the inmate's armpits, covering straps across the inmate's chest, waist and legs.

The inmate is allowed to give a final statement into a microphone suspended from the ceiling. Sometimes, the window air conditioning unit in the witness room makes it impossible to hear.

After the statement, the warden nods to an executioner, who is watching from behind a mirrored glass. He begins injecting eight separate needles into the IV line. A doctor watches a heart monitor hooked up to the condemned inmate.

Although there is not as much to watch when compared to the electric chair, a lethal injection can be as troubling for witnesses, who can see an inmate's face as he dies.

Usually, the inmate makes a coughing noise and fights for his next breath. Then his eyes open and his mouth drops open, as his face turns ashen.

When the heart monitor displays a flat line, showing the inmate is dead, a medical technician and doctor examine the inmate's body and he is pronounced dead.

The witnesses are asked to leave the room and board vans. Official witnesses are taken to the prison administration building, while media witnesses return to a former cow pasture across the road from the prison to file their stories and answer questions from those who did not go inside.

AP-ES-07-09-03 0731EDT



Subscribe to the Tribune and get two weeks free
Place a Classified Ad Online

Return to Top   







 

News | Weather | Hurricane Guide | Things to Do | Sports
Consumer | Classified | Careers | Autos | Relocation
Shopping | Your Money

TBO.com IS Tampa Bay Online
2003, Media General Inc. All rights reserved
Member agreement and privacy statement



TBO.comThe Tampa TribuneWFLAHernando TodayHighlands TodayWeather CenterFlorida Info